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Alibaba buys 50% stake in China's top football club

E-commerce giant Alibaba will pay over $190 million for a 50 percent stake in China's top football club, the company said Thursday, in a frenzy of deal-making before it goes public.

SHANGHAI: E-commerce giant Alibaba will pay over $190 million for a 50 percent stake in China's top football club, the company said Thursday, in a frenzy of deal-making before it goes public.

Alibaba will pay 1.2 billion yuan ($192 million) for the stake in Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande, according to a statement.

Evergrande, who won both the Chinese Super League and the AFC Champions League titles in 2013, said it had introduced Alibaba as a "strategic investor".

The two did not disclose the new ownership structure, but Alibaba will take a 50 percent stake, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The other major shareholder is property developer Evergrande Group, which gives the club its current name.

Chinese sports fans welcomed the deal, which could potentially give the club access to Alibaba's deep pockets to further build the team.

"It's an alliance between giants," wrote one Weibo user under the name SAM-Chen.

Another user on Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging service which is China's equivalent of Twitter, said: "I can see a hopeful future for Chinese football."

Evergrande broke China's 23-year Asian title drought when they clinched the continental club championship last year, and are seeking to defend their AFC Champions League title under Italian manager Marcello Lippi.

The deal marked the latest in a series of high-profile acquisitions by Alibaba as it seeks to expand its business portfolio ahead of a planned US listing that could raise around $15 billion, putting it on par with Facebook's $16 billion IPO in 2012.

Alibaba operates China's most popular online shopping platform, Taobao, which is estimated to hold more than 90 percent of the online market for consumer-to-consumer transactions.

Last week, the company acquired a 10.35 percent stake in Singapore Post for $249 million as part of a strategic cooperation deal.

Prior to that, Alibaba and a private equity fund backed by its founder Jack Ma said in late April they will pay $1.22 billion for a stake in China's leading online video platform Youku Tudou.

The company has also made a foray into entertainment with the purchase of a majority stake in Hong Kong-listed ChinaVision Media Group in March.

Evergrande's Hong Kong-listed unit Evergrande Real Estate was up 3.33 percent by midday Thursday after the announcement.

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